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Anna Edes [Paperback]

Dezso Kosztolanyi
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 1 1993 Revived Modern Classic
Kosztolanyi, Anna Edes. Cruelty and emptiness of Bourgeois life permeate this novel.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This long out-of-print novel by Hungarian writer Kosztolanyi (1885-1936) takes place in Budapest just after the end of WW I. The city is occupied by Romanian troops after having undergone two brief social revolutions. The novel focuses on the plight of a young peasant woman who comes to work as a maid for the Vizys, a pathologically self-absorbed middle-class couple who are struggling to maintain their social standing amidst the ever-changing political climate. Pleased with Anna's almost robotic work ethic, Mrs. Vizy becomes obsessed with maintaining her servant's loyalty through psychological manipulation. A metaphor for the inhumanity of Hungary's precarious bourgeoisie, the novel follows Anna's victimization by her employers, her fellow servants and the Vizys' dissolute nephew as she struggles to achieve even the slightest emotional connection. Kosztolanyi's characters are ironic to the point of caricature, except Anna, whose inexplicable simple-mindedness limits the reader's sympathy for her. The novel nevetheless provides fascinating insight into a volatile period in Europe's history, laying bare the barbarism and hypocrisy inherent in all strata of society.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Though perhaps not readily familiar to American readers, Anna Edes is one of Hungary's best-known classics. Published in 1926 (it was published in the United States in 1947), the novel is a commentary on the country's social ills as symbolized by the title character, a decent working woman exploited by her wicked employer. A strong title for public and academic foreign literature collections.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Poor servant girl April 24 2002
Format:Paperback
Other reviews here summarize the plot, so I'll go with personal reaction here. Kosztolanyi is one of my favorite authors from anywhere in the world. This novel doesn't get highest marks, though. My chief objection is that the climactic murder doesn't seem sufficiently motivated (I have the same problem with the regicide in Macbeth). Mrs. Vizy is picky and cruel and frankly just a bit weird, but there's never a sense that Anna is in a situation she can't escape from, and the lack of tension kills the climax. Mrs. Vizy isn't intentionally malicious, I don't think. It seems Anna's willingness to serve is as much the problem as the Vizy's demands. Her affair with Jancsi goes much the same way: she has ample opportunity to avoid it. But she seems to go along, simplemindedly. I ended up with less sympathy for her than I might have. I may be missing the point; if you understand this better than I do I'd like to hear from you.
That aside, I'm sure this book will get you thinking about the intricacies of the master-servant relation, sort of like the recent movie Gosford Park did, actually. It also got me thinking about control issues in theology. There's no doubt if you can convince a couple of friends to read it you'll have plenty to talk about. The prose is great as always (Kosztolanyi should be called the Hungarian Hemmingway) and it's a neat peek into recent history, too.
On a textual note, Anna isn't the same as Anya, but it's close enough to have connotations, and the author makes it explicit by having young Bandi mispronounce her name as Anya.
Among Kosztolanyi novels I like Pacsirta (Skylark) better than this one; the short stories are absolutely the best, though.
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4.0 out of 5 stars great psychological description of the young girl Sept. 30 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Anna Edes "Sweet Anna" and not "Sweet Mother" as someone has translated is a shocking story of a young maid. She is shy, quiet and hard-working and nobody seems to realize that she has feelings just like everyone else in the house or probably more feelings than the family she is surrounded by. As she is continously hurt emotionally by several people and taken advantage of physically she commits a horrible deed. She can not deal with it all in any other way. It is a shocking story. Kosztolanyi provides us with a psychological case study in just a short story. He does a wonderful job at it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poor servant girl April 24 2002
By Félszemű Farkaskutya (Call me Wolfie) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Other reviews here summarize the plot, so I'll go with personal reaction here. Kosztolanyi is one of my favorite authors from anywhere in the world. This novel doesn't get highest marks, though. My chief objection is that the climactic murder doesn't seem sufficiently motivated (I have the same problem with the regicide in Macbeth). Mrs. Vizy is picky and cruel and frankly just a bit weird, but there's never a sense that Anna is in a situation she can't escape from, and the lack of tension kills the climax. Mrs. Vizy isn't intentionally malicious, I don't think. It seems Anna's willingness to serve is as much the problem as the Vizy's demands. Her affair with Jancsi goes much the same way: she has ample opportunity to avoid it. But she seems to go along, simplemindedly. I ended up with less sympathy for her than I might have. I may be missing the point; if you understand this better than I do I'd like to hear from you.
That aside, I'm sure this book will get you thinking about the intricacies of the master-servant relation, sort of like the recent movie Gosford Park did, actually. It also got me thinking about control issues in theology. There's no doubt if you can convince a couple of friends to read it you'll have plenty to talk about. The prose is great as always (Kosztolanyi should be called the Hungarian Hemmingway) and it's a neat peek into recent history, too.
On a textual note, Anna isn't the same as Anya, but it's close enough to have connotations, and the author makes it explicit by having young Bandi mispronounce her name as Anya.
Among Kosztolanyi novels I like Pacsirta (Skylark) better than this one; the short stories are absolutely the best, though.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great psychological description of the young girl Sept. 30 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Anna Edes "Sweet Anna" and not "Sweet Mother" as someone has translated is a shocking story of a young maid. She is shy, quiet and hard-working and nobody seems to realize that she has feelings just like everyone else in the house or probably more feelings than the family she is surrounded by. As she is continously hurt emotionally by several people and taken advantage of physically she commits a horrible deed. She can not deal with it all in any other way. It is a shocking story. Kosztolanyi provides us with a psychological case study in just a short story. He does a wonderful job at it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Small Masterpiece on a Large and Dispiriting Reality July 8 2007
By Robert T. OKEEFFE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Anna Edes" is a gem - its language is simple and precise, giving its facets sharp edges; it is not a "bright and sparkling" gem but one whose interior is dark and cloudy, since it deals with the murky minds of antagonists in a very concentrated form of class conflict, the struggle between masters and their servants. With the exception of one character (the old and sympathetic workhorse, Doctor Moviszter, who in a sense has created an inner life that puts him "beyond class") neither side in this battle comes off well, and yet neither side has its desires and reasons wholly disowned or tarnished by the author, who sees that it is man, regardless of which philosophy he chooses to be his vehicle, who is both tarnished and worthy of respect at the same time.

It is a story that will remind American readers of the grim fate of working class women portrayed in Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" and "An American Tragedy", but its compass in time and space is smaller and tighter. The story commences on the day when Bela Kun's Soviet-style government ("The Republic of Councils") collapses; preceding the onset of the story is a one-page "urban legend" concerning Kun, which gives the reader an emblematic taste of the hysterical flavor of those days. On the following day a marauding Romanian army occupies and garrisons Budapest, to the astonishment of all parties involved, including the Romanians.

These events form the ominous background of the story of one couple, Kornel and Angela Vizy, and their servants. The old one, Katica, is dismissed, tainted by an indifference to her masters which flourished during the Kun regime, which the Vizys feel licensed her to misbehave. Vizy himself is no hero in this respect, hanging onto credentials certifying him as a "working member of the middle class" until the last minute. For Mrs. Vizy the desperate problems of post-World-War-I Hungary are reduced to very cozy dimensions - where and how shall she find an appropriate servant (i.e., humble, hard-working, and respectful)? The supporting characters of this household drama are the other tenants of the building owned by the Vizys: Druma, an opportunistic attorney with an eye on the future, the Movisters (the doctor's wife is a self-involved patron of the arts and flamboyant man-chaser), and the former communist and now eagerly nationalistic caretaker of the building, Fricsor, and his wife. Etel and Steffi, two other household servants in the building, and the Vizy's transient nephew Jancsi complete the cast.

Anna Edes, a country girl from a small town on Lake Balaton, is the answer to the Vizy's prayers, a literal service machine who seems to have no flaws (and an opaque inner identity - although she has her own standards, she is incapable of articulating them) that might disturb their busy attempt to reconstruct a pre-war gentry style of life. In the course of half a year she organizes the apartment into a shining model of bourgeois propriety. There is an interlude where she is ravished and rapidly abandoned by Jansci; he is an empty-headed fop uncertain of his own wants and needs and he plunges ahead recklessly into one melodrama after another, each contrived to convince himself and others that he is a man of the world (or a talented actor at the center of everyone else's stage). What is going on in Anna's head as these events unfold and she virtually becomes a pincushion of the Vizy's ambitions? That is unknown.

Events move toward a shocking end. Vizy becomes a government under-secretary (although not stated, his bureaucratic job appears to be within the Ministry of the Interior or its equivalent). The big party celebrating his appointment and showing off the restored apartment culminates in a double murder after the guests have gone home. Anna is guilty but appears to be as mystified by her butchery as the police, prosecutor and her defense attorney are; a satisfactory and legally sanctioned "motive" is never established. Only Dr. Movister offers a sane opinion of what has happened and in what light the crime, its perpetrator and its victims should be viewed (and in this, he is the author's fictional alter ego).

This is an extremely well-wrought novel, compact and classical in its language. The talented translator, George Szirtes, provides the English-language reader with a brief introduction in which he describes Kosztolanyi as the most elegant among a generation of elegant Hungarian writers (with elegance referring to his handling of the language, not his selection of themes). There is a little paradox here - Kosztolanyi was a self-declared aesthete (a position condemned in the post-World-War-II era as "bourgeois formalism"), yet he and his fellow writers had to work hard at daily journalism and other functional writing chores in order to keep body and soul together sufficiently to write fiction of a high order. But from the pen of this aesthete, who understood the hierarchies, the bitter internal divisions, and the persistent feudal legacy of Hungary all too well, came this novel, aptly characterized by one of his admirers, the talented S. Marai, as "the only Hungarian social novel that registered class warfare as it should be, without 'social realism', in all its disastrous human reality."

And what about the ending, a postscript note on the story of Anna? In the final two pages Kosztolanyi creates a surprisingly (even disorienting) "post-modernist" commentary on the preceding tale and its author, himself. His mouthpieces here are the opinionated Druma and his companions, who spy briefly upon "the writer Kosztolanyi" in his small glassed-in verandah. They debate just what kind of man he is, and most importantly in the current context (1926), what are his "real" political opinions, unable to understand that he is a man capable of entertaining more than one thought at a time, as they switch between contradictory opinions with absolute self-certainty about the correctness of their judgments. Their final remarks are drowned out by the equally informative barking of a dog. This finishing touch is, I should say, marvelous.
2.0 out of 5 stars I'll admit I rarely love books where the author uses an omniscient narrator that ... July 17 2014
By Donna S. Meredith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Okay, I'll admit I rarely love books where the author uses an omniscient narrator that head-hops constantly. But I wanted to like this book. I felt sympathy for Anna because of the way she was treated by her employers and the way everyone turns against her. But we are given no indication how she could become violent; not even she knows. For me, the ending was extremely unsatisfactory.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an intricate tale of the explosion of a "perfect" maid Feb. 19 1999
By campbell_carolyn@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The main character Anna Edes, or "Sweet Mother" (anya edes) is the perfect maid. she expresses restraint of all of her desires, eating, stealing, and sex, but what will come of this suppression? Something that will blow your mind! It is a must read! Kosztalany is brilliant!
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